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Transcript of Interview of Mary Collins Browning

Browning, Mary Eleanor Collins
Cassette Tape Content Outline
Cassette Tape No. 2000/3
Interviewed by Meredith Smith
William Sherman Oxendine Oral History Collection
Knox Historical Museum Oral History Project
Topic: Knox County, Ky., Health Department
Date of Interview: 1974
Date of Transcript: November 20-28, 2000
Final proof: December 20, 2000
Proofed by: Dessil Creasy
Original Computer word processing program: Professional Write

Mary Eleanor Collins Browning
Dates: Born Dec. 11, 1899; Died Aug. 23, 1987

Cassette Tape from 7" Reel-to-Reel tape No. "C" in the William Sherman Oxendine Oral History Collection on file at the Knox Historical museum. Reduced from slow speed original to cassette by Harry S. Rice, Berea College Archives, Spring 2000. Berea College Cassette reproduction Tapes Numbers: SC. CT. 474-011 and SC.CT. 474-012. The original student cassette tape is lost. Notes by Charles Reed Mitchell. [KHM:PW\OH\BROWNNGM]

Interviewed in 1974 by one of Oxendine's Appalachian Semester students, Meredith Smith*, Mary Eleanor Collins Browning discusses her almost 25 years as a travelling nurse over Knox County but mostly concentrating on the county school system and outlining the highlights of the history of the Health Department between 1943 and 1968.

[* Footnote: The Reel-to-Reel Tape C lists the interviewer only as "Smith" and dates all the interviews 1974. The only Smith in the Appalachian Semester tape collection is Meredith Smith, who also interviewed Mrs. Hiram. H. Owens in 1974.]

One 90-minute cassette tape. Total playing time: Approximately 65-70 minutes. Open. Part of Oxendine Collection for which Oxendine signed a release and donation form.

Almost complete transcript. Most repetitions, false starts, and incomplete sentences have been edited out. Summaries are indicated by brackets [thusly].

NOTE: Mrs. Browning is obviously reading from a prepared manuscript at the beginning of the recording and evidently continues to refer to these papers for dates, information, etc. throughout the tape. The student has already asked her questions or given her a question sheet because Mrs. Browning refers to these questions occasionally. The interview is practically a monologue.

SIDE ONE

Student Meredith Smith's introduction: [First few words are lost.] She is a former nurse with the Health Department here in Barbourville and around Knox County. Mrs. Browning, would you please explain to me about the Health Department and your connections?

Mary Browning. I started to work for the Knox County Health Department under Dr. R.B. Fulks, the health officer at that time, on August 16, 1943 and retired March 1, 1968. I needed five more months of service to have had twenty-five full years. My health broke down and I was unable to continue any longer. But I often think and feel that all the many hours and hours of overtime that I gave the Health Department, that became necessary for me to put in the overtime and to keep the program going, I've often thought if all those hours were added into days and months, it would have made many more than twenty-five years.

I am trying here to give you things as I remember them, and I'm sure it won't be near as interesting as the workload was. You can't get it all on paper or tape what happened each day or each month, but as near as I can tell you I am going to start with when I first went on duty on August 16th. So these are the memories of my work with the school, the school board, school children, their parents, over these past twenty-five years. As I look back, they were hard years, but also rewarding years, never a dull day.

There were so many needs and so many problems of our children and parents as well in this part of Kentucky. As you know, we are labeled a pauper county. Many people do not like that name of "pauper county," but we had so little industry, so few jobs and no way for our people here to make a honest living that we were classified as a pauper county. We had very little industry in Knox County in 1943. Most of the homes I visited were crowded or overcrowded: families of eight and ten persons, living in three rooms, very little income, or the income not adequate for such large families. No water, lights or telephones in the county in '43. I guess I should say [no] "city water;" they had wells, rural wells. In stating no water, I mean city water, plumbing in the house is what I really mean.

Often children were left here with their grandparents and their parents working away from here in the cities to make a living for their children. These parents were ill-prepared, educationally as well as [not having] a trade or qualifications to hold a well-paying job, and many of them could not make enough to support themselves and their families in the city and were therefore compelled to come home and just depend on "pick up" jobs, day labor, what they could raise in their gardens, to support their families and have a living. It was very, very hard.

When people think of me as the county health nurse, or at least the children I worked with over those years, they always pipe up and say, "Oh, yes, she gave me my shots." But I can assure you that shots was only a small detail of a public health nurse's job in a county as large as this.

We had 87 schools in 1943 here in Knox County, most of them one-room schools, a few two rooms, and eight schools that were consolidated. Later several of these eight schools were enlarged to take care of more children, and gradually one by one, year after year, day in and day out, the board of education finally has gotten rid of all those little one- and two-room schools now, and they now have the children of this county in ten consolidated schools.

Several of them--G.R. Hampton, the new Boone-- G.R. Hampton is a new school that we'd never had before. Boone was completely rebuilt, all modern, air conditioned, all modern equipment and supplies for the teachers. Flat Lick, Dewitt had to be redone. Lynn Camp and Grays have had large additions put to them. Girdler was completely rebuilt and consolidated. Knox Central was completely done over several years back. They have a new county school here in the county just in the last year, consolidated, the Jesse D. Lay. It is beautiful, air conditioned works. The teachers say that it's just a joy to work in such a building and the equipment and all that's furnished to them now. They're in the process-- it's in the blueprint stage, I believe; I understand the contract has not been let--but within the next year they hope to completely rebuild Flat Lick, which is a consolidated school. And that will be another new modern consolidated school in this group of ten. And Dewitt, which serves the Stinking Creek area, has been completely rebuilt.

So all the children now of the county are bussed. They may have to walk out of a hollow a half a mile or so or a mile from home to reach a pick-up point, but the children are all picked up by buses and transported into these ten schools that serve the county now.

That's a vast improvement in the last 25 years from 87 little old cold, dilapidated, poorly heated, poorly ventilated, country schools of 14 - 15 children. Some of those little one-room schools [had] 40 or 50 students for one teacher to try to worry through and try to have all eight grades or certainly the first six grades and have 40 or 50 children in a little old one- or two-room school. Most of them, one-room schools. And might I say on the top of a hilltop in practically all cases. I'd have a thirty-pound bag and a different case of records, plus other equipment we'd use and get it up to the top of those hills. The children all worrying when they'd see me coming, to come running and carry my bag and my supplies up the hill, and come back with me and unload me.

There was no electricity in those one-room schools. There was no telephones out in those rural areas whereby I could call back into the health department and find out if something had happened and I was needed in that area. I had to wait until I got back to the health department to find out if there was a diphtheria or a typhoid or a polio case in the area I was working in. I had to wait till I got back in and maybe have to turn right around and go back to that area. Back in those days, in '43 and for a number of years, we quarantined diphtheria and scarlet fever. Now it isn't being done. We don't have many cases anyway to begin with, but even if we do they aren't quarantined like they were then.

I can tell you about the coal stoves in the rural schools. These one-room schools, as I say, had no electricity. There was no telephones. No modern heating systems existed in the one-room schools and two-room schools. And some of them was six-and eight-room [schools] back then and were equipped with the big iron potbelly, we called them the potbellied coal stoves, in each room. And the children sitting near the stove, they were too hot, and the ones fartherest from the stove, they were too cold. So we had a mighty, mighty bad situation back here for a number of years. So it's really a blessing to drive out and visit the ten schools that we have here in Knox County now.

We had no lunch room in these 87 schools, except then they did try to carry on a lunch program, which was very meager, in the eight consolidated schools they had back in 1943. I can't remember just actually, but about eight or ten years before I retired, they began to serve hot food to the children even in the one-room schools. The government made food available to the board of education to feed the children who were unable to pay, and those who could pay paid a dime or fifteen, twenty cents, whatever they were able to pay, and many of them couldn't pay anything. They got it free. The teachers and some of the older children in the school, after electricity came in, on an electric hot plate would try to have hot food and fruit and milk and canned meat sliced and sandwiches made at school so that every child got a fair lunch, plus plenty of milk.

Milk was available in all those one-room schools after they started that lunch program. Fact is, I think they had a milk program two or three years before the free lunch program was started in those one-room schools. They had milk in most of the schools there for several years before the lunch part was started. They had no lunch room or dining room, but they'd take a corner of a little one-room school and on an old table, spread out a table cloth on it, and prepare sandwiches and hot soup and open cans of canned food or have fresh apples or oranges. Each of those one-room schools was also furnished with a refrigerator by the board of education or somebody. In most cases they were õóåä refrigerators. Seems to me I remember somebody telling me that the milk company furnished some of those refrigerators; whether that was true, I don't remember. But anyway, they had refrigeration to keep milk for them. They had milk twice a day, plus for their lunch, so that was a far cry from what they had when I first began with them.

You asked what I did when I visited in these schools. I tried to take the records. We would ask the teacher to send in the names of all her school children regardless of what grade they were in. Before I went to that school, the first thing, the clerks would look up in our files and check to see if we had an immunization card on that child, and if we did, that there was put down on a record we had. And I took that record with me and knew whether the child had the diphtheria, whooping cough shots when it was a baby and only needed a booster or if it had never had anything. And therefore that was my guide to go by at that time. Later, we had forms the last ten years that I worked that we sent out, and the teacher sent these forms to the parents for them to sign for the immunizations and to write down what the child had had and what they wanted the child to have now. That was before the law was passed where certain immunizations were required by law before they could enter school.

Those records signed by the parents, some of them were mighty poor records. You didn't know what they needed or what they wanted them to have, because oft times the parents would sign them and not check anything. It was very difficult to get them all immunized as they should be, but we did have a real good immunization program, and we couldn't have if we didn't have lots of people to help us. The teachers, especially of those immunization programs, they helped us and did everything within their power, as well as the board of education worked very closely with our board of health, and the board of health supervised the health department.

All of us worked very closely together. If I went to the board of health with a problem pertaining to the schools, they would send me over to the board of education, and I would talk with Mr. Lay or whichever worker of the department I needed to see about a problem, and they would always tell me, "If your board of health says that is necessary, then it is necessary to meet our requirements." So it wasn't as difficult to work here in our county with an immunization program and many of the other programs that we had as I've heard nurses state about their difficulties in other counties in the state. It was far easier to work because we had these different boards, people responsible for these children's health, cooperating to a person.

Also when I was at the school, I would try to let the teacher know a week or ten days ahead when I would be there and urge her to invite the mothers with pre-school children in the home to be at the schoolhouse on the days when I was there. And at such time if those children had not had their immunizations I would also start their immunizations, and then should they have small children who looked undernourished or looked like they needed attention by a doctor, I would urge them to go and see their family doctor. Or if they couldn't do that, I would urge them to come into the health department and I would make arrangements for a local physician to see the child free of charge if we didn't have a health officer.

All through those years, many times we were without a health officer, and the doctors on the board of health here had to take these free cases for us. I'd send to first one doctor or another and get them to examine the child or a baby and ask them if they would refer for us to Louisville or Lexington, wherever the child could get attention. And they were very good. Fact is, I never asked a doctor in this town to help me to do anything over there that it wasn't granted. I don't remember any wish that I made known and it wasn't granted. Some provision would be made by the doctor that called, the organization or the board of education, whoever was responsible for filling that need. If I asked for it, I got it.

Children's Hospital in Louisville was the only hospital for years that we could send sick babies or sick children to. They never refused to take a child, and I believe two days is the longest they ever made me wait. They would tell me oft times that they didn't even have a bed available, but would I call back or they would call me late that afternoon or early the next morning when a bed was vacated, when they evidently had discharged some child to leave to be sent home, and a bed was made available. They always took our children and especially if it was an emergency. Even if they didn't have a bed, they would tell me to send the child on. Some provision would be made to take care of it. They never refused a child.

Those were in the years before the new hospital was built here in Knox County and before the University Hospital at Lexington was built.

Back to the school child: I don't think I ever went in a schoolroom that there wasn't some child that needed glasses, or was crippled, or there was something wrong, or wasn't learning; the teacher couldn't hold the child's attention. We put those children under our jurisdiction and began to try to find out what was wrong, why the child wasn't learning. Was it mentally handicapped, or did it have poor vision, poor hearing? So in many cases, many not all, we found a child that was unable to see, the child was not hearing well, if at all, and then we had those children to channel to different centers where we could get help for them.

The Lion's Club here in Barbourville, Knox County, furnished breakfast for indigent children, insofar as their funds went, but never began to meet our needs. Linda Neville of Lexington, Kentucky, who had spent her life and fortune trying to help save indigent children's vision, would help us with children who needed treatment or surgery for eye conditions.

But now all those eye glasses and eye conditions is handled through that Title One fund that is sent here into the county to furnish glasses and help a child. Fact is, all children now before they enter school must be immunized. They have a complete physical examination.

We have a hearing center established here in Knox County that covers seventeen counties, Knox County as well as 17 other counties. We have a full-time audiologist that is made available here with a secretary at the center. The city built the hearing center and furnished the land for it to be built on for the hearing center. The state board of health has funds made available to them to furnish that hearing center with all types of audiology equipment, protecting children's hearing.

Then we enlisted the Younger Woman's Club, back in 1959, I believe, was about when that center opened up. The Younger Woman's Club went out into the [schools]. A group of them were especially trained to examine children, test their hearing, and they would take the audiology machines out into the schools and screen the children. As a rule there would be three, four or five, maybe twenty--according to the size of the school--they would pick up children who they thought did not respond to the test. A record was made on them. It was turned into us, and we in turn made appointments for those children to be seen at the hearing center on such and such a day. We even notified the teacher or the parent to have them in at the hearing center on such and such a day.

If, after they were examined there by the audiologist and he still felt like their hearing was defective, then we organized a clinic for once a month and had an ear, nose and throat specialist, an ear man, a Dr. [Albert] Cullum from up here at Middlesboro. He's been coming down here in this county, I guess it's been ten years or more, and examining the children. Some of them cannot be helped at all, [if] it's a birth defect, but if they can be helped by surgery, he does surgery on them. Or if they need a hearing aid which will help them, they're sent into Louisville for a hearing aid. They were in my time. And all that for indigent children is paid through the state department of health with funds that were especially set up through the Child Maternal Health League in Washington, D.C.

I haven't at my fingertips the details of it, but that's the way it was handled. That takes care of the hearing situation here fairly well or did at the time I was working. No child that could be helped was left without some effort if the parents would [allow it]. If the child needed surgery or treatment done, they got it.

And then back in 1945 and 1960 for the teeth to be taken care of, we used to, long in August and September, get a trailer unit sent by the state department of health. They had somebody finance them for these trailers, and they would bring them in for five, six to eight weeks with a dentist and a dental hygienist. The dental hygienist usually examined the children, and the dentist did the work on them.

A year or two we didn't have the hygienist, and the nurses had to examine the children. At that time there were two of us working, and I felt so inadequate to examine a child to say whether it needed dental care. But I was very proud, I can't remember which year it was, of the two years we did it, the dentist told us we only sent him two children each year that hadn't needed any work. We had taken unkept teeth, dirty teeth for cavities, and I thought we did right well when we hadn't had any special training in that line.

And later we arranged through the doctors, the local dentists here in town, to bring dental care to the handicapped children, and they were sent in by bus by the board of education. The teacher would come and bring so many children from her school each week. And oft times if a case load was too heavy, we would schedule more than one day a week at the health department for these children to correct their dental problems, two and three times a week.

One of the next things that helped us in our county so much, it was just a blessing in disguise I always called it, was when the state made available funds to build the five new T.B. [tuberculosis] hospitals over the state of Kentucky, and one of those T.B. hospitals was located twenty miles from us in Laurel County down near London, Kentucky. Our quota or allotment of T.B. patients that could be sent to the T.B. hospital back in 1951, when the hospital was built, was supposed to be nine patients.

Our T.B. cases were many here in the county. Living in crowded homes, we had very poor facilities to isolate them. You were fortunate to have a bed for them alone. Many times they had to sleep in the same room with other members of the family. So when we got this hospital we hoped to get as many as we could of our active cases hospitalized. At first I thought, "Nine beds? That won't be a drop in the bucket for us." But later we found that it did meet our needs because we had several other counties around in the area that didn't take up all their quota of beds, so that we could at all times have more than nine patients in the hospital.

They kept those T.B. patients until their sputum became negative, and then if their sputum was negative and they were physically able to be discharged, they would let them come back home and come take their rest at home. And then they went back to the T.B. hospital every month or every two months for supervision. That was the early days when the hospital was first built.

Later, I can't remember what year it was, they discovered a new drug, and this new drug has just done wonders for T.B. patients and their contacts. Now they take them in the hospital and examine them and get them on this drug, and within a few weeks their sputum is negative and they're allowed to come back home and be in the community, take their rest here as long as they take their drugs. It all depends upon the individual patient; some of them recover much more rapidly than others. But even then, it was a blessing in disguise, the new drug and the hospital being stationed down here, because we can keep more patients under our supervision and under treatment by letting them have a shorter hospital stay and get them on the drug and send them home. As I understand it, that's the way it's being handled now.

But where I had three things a week along the greater part of the time, and then out on the road working the schools and all these other problems along with T.B., now they've got a nurse that does nothing else but T.B. work here in the county, supervising T.B. patients, getting them in the hospital, coming and getting the children and the mothers in and T.B.--testing them and check to see if anybody else had the disease. All those things I had to do. When I look back, I wonder how I ever did it. I stumbled over it someway.

Let me drop back to another great advantage that's been a blessing in disguise for our children. Back in 1949 we had here in Knox County 49 cases of polio [poliomyelitis]. Very few people in the county realized we had that much. There seemed to be an epidemic all over the whole state of Kentucky. Of these 49 children, we had three deaths. Now all of them now are grown. Some of them are badly crippled, but most of them made a fair recovery. These children was sent to Louisville and Lexington for hospitalization, and the bills were paid by the commission for handicapped children.

When along about 1955 the Salk vaccine became available to us, we had no money set up in our budget at the time to pay for the Salk vaccine, but as I've always said, "Let your wishes and needs be known and they will be fulfilled." We let it be known here through the county, through a few PTA organizations here in the county at the time. I went to the schools and talked to the teachers and the PTA groups and any organization that would listen to me. I'd talk to them and told them of the need for money, and we made a drive here countywide and raised funds to buy our first polio vaccine.

It's the only vaccine as far as I know since 1943 that the parents or the patients had to pay for. Many counties ran out of money and couldn't handle their polio programs. Even though this was a poor county, and a pauper county as we're called, we never lacked funds for polio vaccine. We went all over the county. And teachers, PTA groups, and organizations all over this county helped with this program, and we even set them up in different areas on Sunday so that we'd sure get every child, pre-schooler as well as school child, for the Salk vaccine. Later the Sabin oral vaccine came in, and we used it instead of the Salk, and it's still being used. It has been a beautiful thing for us to have it. We do not have all those polio cases we once had, and you don't see all that crippling. That's one of the finest things that happened for the children of this county or any county or state as far as I'm concerned.

It was back in 1962 during the Chandler administration a new hospital was built, a medical center, in Lexington, KY. It's called the University of Kentucky Hospital or the Albert Chandler Medical Center. I used to hear a lot of talk in the newspapers: some people approved of the medical center and others said it was a waste of money. And I wondered at the time how much benefit it would be to us, and it's been a blessing in disguise for the indigent children as well as for the adult, ageing population.

At first the University of Kentucky sent teams of pediatricians to our county and other counties over the state and held clinics in the county. And any child that needed hospitalization, treatment, surgery, anything except the crippled children--permission for handicapped children was handled [separately], it always is---they took. If the parents could pay, all right. If they had insurance or hospitalization that was in use, but if they did not have the money, and the child had a need for a correction of some ailment, it was channeled into the University of Kentucky. Those are the things that show time's improvement.

I had to go and set up the appointments for when they'd be into the health department to see these teams who'd come in to do the examinations from U.K. Generally after they were [determined to be] the ones that needed to be sent in, the University of Kentucky would send me a appointment and request that I have such and such a child in there on such and such a day. Many of these parents didn't have funds to pay their way to go to the University of Kentucky, and we'd have to pay their way. We had no funds in the health department, and neither did the board of education have funds set up for transporting them. We had to depend upon the different clubs here in town to give us money to send these children, to channel them to the different centers where they had to go. We never had a child that didn't get where it belonged. We've been criticized that we're a pauper county and backward, but nobody knows but me, or a lot of people I don't think much knew, but I wished I could tell the folks who are doing this criticizing at times of all the free help, free money, free transportation, free this, free that, that has been given to us at the Knox County health department in our effort to get these needy children or parents where they belong for treatment.

Among the {wants} of this county also was the telephone and electricity. Most all of the one-room schools, some of them had electricity, [but] there wasn't any telephones even out in the neighborhoods sometimes within eight and ten miles of them. They finally got the rural telephones, and the electricity in the homes. And that, too, has made a difference to me, especially that telephone lightened my load because I could call these ten consolidated schools we now have in the county, and most of those principals would have a child there in high school that was a brother or sister to the child I wanted, and they could send messages /

SIDE TWO

by that older child in school or write a note and send to the little one, telling the parents that Mrs. Browning wanted them at the health department at such and such a time or to go to the bus station, [that] there was bus tickets at the bus station with their name on it for them to go into Louisville or to Lexington to take this child for surgery, eye correction, hearing, anything that was needed to get that child well and in good health.

We sent them out that way. That saved me [from] getting in the car and driving miles and miles to contact that parent. If the case load was so heavy and I couldn't use the teacher or a school, I went over to Knox Central where all the school buses were and would ask who's the driver that goes to such and such a part of the county. The driver would tell me who to go see, and I'd go see that bus driver, catch him and tell that I wanted a message sent to so and so that I wanted them at the health department or the bus station, or if they had car of their own and could do their own transporting, tell them that they were to be at such and such a hospital in Lexington or Louisville or London or wherever they had to go at such and such a time, and give the bus driver the address of where they were to go and got them out that way.

That's the only way we could possibly keep the case load that we handled there at the health department, keep all these cripples and defective children that needed help, or adults who needed help, the only earthly way that one or two nurses could keep going. We had over about 15 years, a little better than half my time, we had two nurses in that 25 years and then a third nurse about two or three years of that time. The rest of the time I worked alone, only one nurse.

Now the board of education has a full-time nurse for these ten consolidated schools. She does, I think, most of the hearing checks now, weighs and measures them, but no child is allowed to enter school now without a complete physical examination and a health record showing that it's had all these immunizations. And the state law now requires that all children have small pox, diphtheria, whooping cough, and tetanus, polio [immunizations]. They don't require typhoid [shots] any more. But those are the immunizations that are supposed to be completed before they enter school, and if they're not completed they are forced to start them, and this nurse that the board of education has hired, she checks on that very closely and keeps after it now, where I used to have to do that.

Back in 1943 when I started visiting schools, road conditions were so bad I often had to park my car and ride on a horse borrowed from neighbors or walk or driven by trucks or wagons, or hire a driver and truck for the day to take me to the many far-out schools and places where it was necessary I go. The roads were muddy; they didn't have gravel on them, poorly graded. Oft times I got stuck, oft times I ran off the road in the slick, wet, muddy and slick, and I'd get over in the ditch and couldn't get out. I'd have to get out and walk to the nearest neighbor and get help, and I was never refused help and never paid anybody for help. They always were willing to help me. They appreciated having a nurse in their area, and the men in the neighborhood, some of them would get together and get me back on the road or loan me a horse or put me in a truck and take me where I was trying to get and bring me back to the car.

Some of those walks, for years I was ashamed to tell it, but it's right comical and I'll tell it now. I went to this one particular school and I had to walk about three miles in and three out. It was a hot day and I had on light weight walking shoes, and the road was so rocky and rough. By the time I got in there and got back to one of these little ponds, or puddles running down the side of the road, my feet were steaming and burning. I found me a shade tree and pulled my shoes and stockings off and put my feet in that cold water to rest them {so that I could walk on} the rest of the way. I was always ashamed to tell that I'd done that until one day one of the welfare ladies at the welfare office was talking about that trip; how [when] she walked, she'd always have to stop and bathe her feet. I guess she thought, "Well, I'd had the same experience."

Our roads, many of them, are still in that stage of travel of that time, but they are much better, and it's amazing to me to get in the car now and drive out and see the difference now in recent years from what it was at one time.

We now have this O.E.O., funded by the government at Washington, D.C., made available to train many of our boys and girls, fathers and mothers, to give them training in special jobs that they can do in order to make a living. It is just such a privilege now to see and observe how things are now to what they were 25 years ago.

It's impossible for me to remember all the things that I have done or people have done for me, but I have done a little bit of everything, such as the county judge asking me if I'd go quietly, slip in, and give blood test to married parents, or parents who needed to be married, that were sick and looked like was going to die, and their children wouldn't be able to draw their social security. I've done that, and I wonder sometimes how many health departments in the state of Kentucky or any other state can say they even had weddings at the health department.

I had one couple, the welfare came to me quietly and told me that they had never been married and would I get their blood test and help them to get married. I took over that couple. They didn't want their neighborhood minister to marry them, because they didn't want anyone to know they had lived those twenty-some odd years--they had married children--didn't want it to be known that they had lived together out of wedlock all those years and reared a family. So I arranged, got the blood test, got the marriage papers filled out by one of the local doctors, told him the situation, what was wrong, why they hadn't been married all those years, and they issued the certificate so that mother and father could be married. I got a local minister here in town to come to the health department one morning, and I got the couple back in the back waiting room, or assembly room, we called it, and we had a wedding.

I'll never forget the sparkle and the joy in that woman's face when she walked out, to think that after all those years, that they'd been married, and her last request was would I be able to keep it out of the papers. I said, "Yes," and I said, "Where are you going to put your marriage certificate with the date on it showing when you were married? Take it home and put it in the very, very bottom of the trunk with everything else on top of it."

I don't know. I wish I was really, really talented and smart. I've had so many experiences that I don't know where to start or where to close. But if I was really smart with all the experiences and things that have happened to me in those 25 years, if I could get it in a book, I would really have a book I believe that would sell, because I've had many, many funny things happen, rewarding things happen, and it's difficult to get it all together and bring it back to mind.

But I never could have worked those 25 years that I did work in carrying on all the different programs and do all the things I did if it hadn't been for the help that was given to me. I could call on the telephone in the city, call the neighborhood people, ask them to send a message for me to get so and so into the health department. I could use volunteer help, teachers have helped, different clubs here in town have helped. I had money always at my finger tips to pay for anything, any great need we had at the health department.

Very seldom was I ever without money. I never was bonded. I was trusted with that money. The state department of health frowned on and in fact it told the health department nurses not to do it, but our need was here so great that they didn't give the money to the health department, they gave it to me where I had personal control over it, never asked me to be bonded. And as far as I know, I never used a penny of it for anything, only on the people who were in need, needed transportation, needed maybe gowns and housecoats, bedroom slippers to go to the T.B. hospital. I had a fund for that. All these things were given to me by people in this town or in the county. When the needs were made known, somebody got out and got to work and lined up these [funds] for us to meet the needs that we had in an effort to carry on our program.

I can never thank everybody: bus drivers, school teachers, clubs, private individuals. Even the churches have given me money for cod liver oil, back in the days when we needed cod liver oil for our indigent babies. The church women, different church circles, some of them are still doing it.

Now back to the hearing programs. The first two or three hearing programs we had down at that office, we had a crowd of 40 or 50 children each clinic day. They nearly run us out of there before the day was over. I learned that those children that were crying and had given so much trouble, they hadn't had anything to eat, or their parents had run out of funds to go to the restaurant and buy food from. So when I found out what was wrong I went and got some milk and cookies and vegetables, that was about all that was available at the time. Before the next clinic, I went to Mr. Lay, and he sent me to the [Commodity food distribution center], the center that gave out free food in the county. And the man in charge there, Mr. Johnson, gave me the address of who to write in Frankfort and ask for food like these [school] lunchrooms get through the government.

So I wrote to Frankfort to this man. He called me within a few days and told me to go to the food center where they were handing out food as I needed it and get anything I needed and just send him a copy of what I got and tell him what it was for. Then some of the ladies in the churches here in town took over the food and prepared sandwiches and fixed it up and brought over to the health department each hearing clinic, and we had food for the parents as well as the children. Milk was furnished, everything just like a pretty lunchroom at school.

Later when they did away with these [commodity] centers for the disposing of the food out in the county, then Mr. Lay allowed Mrs. [Stella] Gibson, the woman here in town in charge of the lunchroom program... We'd give her a list of how many we wanted her to prepare for, and she sent over bread, meat, everything we needed from paper napkins to paper plates. Everything was furnished through that lunchroom program for that one big clinic.

Some of those clinics, we wouldn't get through with them. There were 17 counties in here and their children, and some of them we wouldn't get through with until five or six o'clock at night before the doctor would be finished with them. And then they'd have that long trip home, and they didn't have money to buy food. We had milk and sandwiches, cakes and cookies, and fruit, I believe is what we usually served, and peanut butter sandwiches along with the meat sandwiches. We had cheese, and meat, and peanut butter sandwiches. That was our three protein things and then we always had bananas and apples, maybe ice cream, and always milk. And milk lasted all day and the sandwiches oft times. I'd usually try to plan to have more than we would really need, so in the afternoon, long about three or four o'clock, the children who were left might be hungry again, we could feed them again and give them more milk.

Now, don't think that don't take a lot of work and a lot of planning and a lot of outside help, because we didn't have enough personnel there in the health department in those days to do all that. Somebody had to help, and they always did, and they did it with a smile.

You look back on it, and you'd think of all the different, different ones and those who helped and had a hand in trying to make the children a happier, healthier bunch of children. And I see them now, they'll stop me in the grocery store, stop me on the street: "Miss Browning, do you remember me?" And I can't remember them all. But I usually ask them who their parents were and what area, which school they went to, and after I ask them that, I can usually place them, who they belong to and remember the child or the family.

When I was a young child growing up, we children would come in from school until we got up in high school, and we'd come in talking about some child and my father would always say, "Well, who's the mother and father?" That used to make me, when I was a little girl, so mad. I thought, "What difference does it make who their mother and father was?" And here I am now up in years, and I still ask the same question now that my father used to ask: "Who's the mother and father?" And after I get the mother and father placed, then I can place the child, you know, and remember it.

If it didn't have any defects, I don't remember it because there were always children that had defects. I still can place practically all of them I handled, and I handled many a one over the years. So [because] they had to have quite a bit of time and service, I remember all of them when they tell me who they are. I don't recognize them always on the street, and I'll hear grown ups sometimes in the grocery store: "That's Miss Browning!" and I'll look at them and grin, and they'll come up to me, and I'll ask them who they are, and it's just a pleasure to meet them and to know that they still remember you.

It's been mighty gratifying. I've done all types of work. I've worked as a floor supervisor in a hospital setting, done a lot of hospital work, but I believe it is the most gratifying and improving work that I ever did in my life. We the channels to help and mold so many lives, and I didn't only do the health work, I felt like I was at the age that I could tell the children when they was considering dropping out of school. I don't know how much good I did, but I sure did beg and plead with them and talk with them about getting back in school and not to quit and keep on.

I never will forget one boy--I can't even remember his name after all this time--but I used to watch him over here at Knox Central High School, and even up to his senior year he was still coming over to Knox Central, in the late fifties or early sixties along in there, with bib overalls on. Now, that was unusual for boys to come... Now they might wear the blue jeans pants to school with their shirts but not bib overalls. I never did know his family intimately, but I looked that boy over, and years later after he had graduated from high school, he came in the health department for something one day, and he asked me if I remembered him. And I looked at him and I said, "Yes, I remember you." And I asked him how he's doing. Like most of our children here in the county when they finished school they had to leave the county to get a job. And he had a good job away from here up in Detroit, Cincinnati, somewhere. He said he was buying him a home, and he was well dressed, not fine dressed, but he had better than bib overalls. I always admired that boy: to think he had the courage--I guess his parents couldn't give him any better than the bib overalls-- and he went right on over here and graduated from school and got an education.

We've got one particular boy I remember, I wondered how in the world when I found out he was a school teacher.... His mother died and left ten little children. His father was an alcoholic. World War II came along. He had to serve. He was grown up and in the war. He took his war time [educational grant] and got his college education, and he's principal now in one of these new, all modern consolidated schools here in Knox County. One of these ten schools, he's principal of that school. I look at that boy in amazement and wonder how, with the background he had, that he ever got where he did.

I've often said that World War II caused many a heartache. I know I lost my son then, and I shed enough tears to float Cumberland River, I did. But then again I look and see these boys. They took their veteran time and put it in college and made something out of themselves. The war caused many a heartache, but it also put many a boy in a position to go to school, get an education, and make something out of themselves. And that's one of the most gratifying things, that you can look back on your 25 years and see these children and see what they've made of themselves. It just seems like a miracle almost.

I guess I'm through.

END OF INTERVIEW

Topics Index

  • communication
  • Louisville Children's Hospital
  • nurses
  • diseases and epidemics
  • polio
  • doctors
  • roads
  • economics
  • school nurses
  • education
  • schools
  • food (Commodity) distribution
  • sociology
  • health
  • tuberculous
  • Hearing Clinic
  • University of Kentucky
  • Knox County Health Department
  • Hospital
  • Knox County School System
  • World War II

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